Bonding: It’s a familiar word that kicks in around postpartum. You may have thought about bonding quite a bit or not at all. In this article we’re going to run through some of the emotions you might be feeling and touch on supporting you to bond with your baby.
It’s good to keep an open mind on how those first experiences with your baby shortly after birth could be. Bonding has a powerful, physical and biological influence. The part of your brain that deals with emotions (the amygdala) is more active after birth. By keeping an open mind and not putting yourself under any pressure to ‘perform’ post birth, you could possibly save yourself some stress.
You may have a positive, healthy vision of holding your baby immediately after birth, cuddling them and staring into your baby’s eyes full of joy and love. This is the scenario the media often portrays, what is often expected – and it is often the case. But it’s not always like this.
There are several other possibilities that include feelings of deflation, anxiety, resentment towards your baby (especially if the birth was difficult) or not feeling much towards your baby at all. You could also have some moments of shock or a feeling that the experience is surreal or dream-like.
Coupled with exhaustion, this can lead some mums to feel guilty or like a ‘bad mum’. Sometimes it can take time to get to know each other and build a bond and there’s no rush. Avoid casting judgement on your feelings and instead recognise them and be kind to yourself.
"By keeping an open mind and not putting yourself under any pressure to ‘perform’ post birth, you could possibly save yourself some stress."
Feeding and bonding
Feeding, however you chose to – bottle or breast feed – is a recognised opportunity for your baby to bond with you too. If you are bottle feeding, in the early months try to limit the number of people feeding baby. Although everyone wants the privilege, your baby needs those key people (you or your partner) to be consistent. Of course, granny giving the odd bottle while you’re tired is great! But in general, it’s best to limit the feeders to you and your partner.
You will notice that your baby starts to make good eye contact with you as their eyesight develops. You could also notice that you feel good at this time because oxytocin is released into your bloodstream – even just watching them feed can release oxytocin. You will enjoy feeding time more and will be more likely to bond if you feel relaxed feeding your baby.
For some mums this means they want to be alone with their baby to feed – I really felt like this when I had Georgie, I didn’t really want to have conversations I just wanted to sit back and relax while I fed, perhaps with something on in the background.
Being undisturbed gives you the opportunity to enjoy just being with your baby. In the early days and weeks, it feels like you are giving out and not always getting a lot back. There will be times when you feel exhausted, stressed or anxious.
Try to recognize when you are particularly tired or stressed and give yourself some time out too. You can use the time to rest, sleep and recharge your batteries – which may help you to bond. There will be times when you want to just sit or lay quietly with or without your baby and enjoy this quiet time.
There’s a huge body of research to validate that spending time ‘skin to skin’ with your baby supports emotional wellbeing and is an oxytocin-producing experience that supports your baby’s physical well-being too.
Skin-to-skin contact has a calming effect on the both of you. You can combine skin-to-skin with feeding and this can also support breastfeeding and encourage babies that may be a little reluctant to feed initially.
"In the early days and weeks, it feels like you are giving out and not always getting a lot back."
Eye contact, talking and singing
Your baby already knows your voice and now recognises your smell. Spending time talking or singing quietly to your baby can be soothing and if you have eye contact at the same time you may feel a stronger connection. It can take some weeks before your baby makes conscious eye contact with you. At birth they can only see as far as 8-15 inches so get up nice and close.
Biology and physiology
Simple things like your smell, skin, face and touch mean so much to your baby, who is becoming accustomed to the new world outside of your body. You really don’t need to work at bonding or try to bond and don’t overthink it.
Equally, if you feel that you’re not bonding it’s important to be open about how you feel with people you trust because mums who don’t feel a close connection with their baby early on can be left feeling guilty, confused, or even ashamed.
You could well feel you’re the only one or that this isn’t normal. Allow yourself to feel what you feel and, in that moment, accept how you feel. There’s plenty of time and opportunities for bonding to kick in, slowly develop or be cemented. Keeping your feelings cooped up will only make things escalate and feel worse.
If you have PND (which is different to 'Baby Blues’), you might find that the depression is impacting bonding, especially if it’s severe. Speaking to a professional, sooner rather than later, will really help and it’s the first step to feeling better.
Speak to your partner or a trusted family member and let them know how you are feeling. There are lots of options for treating PND and there is always a way forward. Whether it’s mild or severe, you don’t have to put up with how you feel. You may have a healthy baby but that does not mean you don’t have the right to feel down or that you don’t deserve support for how you feel. You do!
"There’s plenty of time and opportunities for bonding to kick in, slowly develop or be cemented."
If your partner is struggling with bonding, there’s help at hand. Again, do let your midwife know and get your partner to speak to them too. Some partners feel excluded or simply forgotten about and that they’ve become invisible. This might particularly feel like the case when you are breastfeeding.
Encourage your partner to generally get involved as much as possible and to enjoy the early days, weeks and months with you. Skin-to-skin is also a great way for them to bond. Simply taking little videos or photos of them together can also help so they see themselves with their baby too.
There is no such thing as the perfect family and perfect postnatal period, regardless of what you see online. Your experience is unique and it’s important not to compare yourself to anyone else during this time. You do you and ask for help, support or advice whenever you need it.
You’ve got this!